Golf Handicap

Learn everything you need you know about your golf handicap using our easy to understand guides.

What is a golf handicap?

A golf handicap is the measurement of your golfing ability and allows you to play against other golfers on a fair basis. It’s therefore an excellent measurement of how your game is improving and in an ideal world your handicap should always be reducing or staying the same – we did say ‘ideal’.

It is based on the number of strokes you take above a ‘scratch golf’, someone who plays off a zero handicap. Each time you play a round, your nett score is worked out on the total number of shots you took minus your golf handicap.


The handicap calculation does not penalise you for very bad days either and by using the buffer zones, your handicap will be adjusted after each round.


Within a round of golf, there a different ways to play, from stroke play to match play, greensomes, foursomes, but whether you play as an individual or part of a team, your playing golf handicap is used.


But first you need your initial starting Handicap.

Your initial Handicap Calculation

To calculate your initial handicap, an average of your first three rounds is used, from play on courses of 18 holes.


Once 3 scorecards have been entered or submitted a calculation is made for your initial golf handicap.


The calculation takes your individual hole scores, uses them with each holes par. The maximum, for initial handicap purposes, for each hole is 2 over par – so the calculation levels your score out to maximum values (if you played badly on a particular hole.) – which allows for a couple of bad holes (Yes, we do that too!).


Your Gross Score is used as an initial guide, this is your total score (adjusted) for the round minus the SSS for the course (see below for SSS).

e.g If you scored a total of 99, maybe this was adjusted to 98 as you scored a 6 on a par 3 (max allowed is 2 over par) – so if the course SSS is 71 your Gross Score is 98-71 which is 27.


This is how much you played over expected Par, this is divided between your 3 scores.


So your starting Handicap = 9 (27/3=9).


Our Handicap allows for a Men’s Handicap of 36 for handicap purposes but should be limited to 28 for men. In other countries, the maximum handicap is 53.5!

The SSS - Standard Scratch Score

While the Par for the course is important, your handicap is calculated using the SSS or the Standard Scratch Score of the course. The reason is that while the Par for different courses might be the same, some courses are more difficult than others and this difference is shown within the SSS.


The SSS value can typically range between 67 and 74.

The Course Slope Rating

Some courses and scoring also use the SLOPE rating, this like the SSS, is used to help adjust play where the course you are playing is easy or difficult.

For example, your local course (we guess) is probably not as difficult to play as Carnoustie (try it for yourself). So Carnoustie will carry a higher slope rating, which is then used to level out your handicap calculation, giving you a bit more credit.

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